2022 World Championship Eve

Mark Selby will play in the opening session tomorrow as he starts his defend of the World title. Mark has taken time off the sport after revealing that mental health issues were crippling him.

He has been speaking to The Sportsman about where he stands today:

Mark Selby Says His Personal Demons Took The Joy Away From 2016 World Title Win

Mark Selby has revealed his demons took away the joy of one of his greatest Crucible achievements. The reigning and four-time world champion embarks on his quest for a fifth Betfred World Championship crown tomorrow against Welsh qualifier Jamie Jones.

But this year’s trip to the iconic theatre in Sheffield comes after Leicester’s Selby, 38, publicly spoke about an acute recurrence of mental health problems.

Current world No2 Selby talked with searing honesty about how the death of his beloved father David when just 16 affected him having never seen him play as a professional.

That pain never went away – and it emerged before and during Selby’s charge to a second world title in 2016.

That same night also saw the Foxes clinch a shock Premier League title and he was pictured with the club’s flag as well as the trophy. But that was just in body, as his mind went blank.

Happily, after taking some time away from the sport before this tournament, Selby seems fresh and relaxed after a two-week break in Dubai with his family, and has been back on the practice table.

But of that night six years ago, he said: “When I won the world title for the second time in 2016, I wasn’t in quite as bad a way as I have been this time but I wasn’t in a good way. 

I went on to lift the trophy, Vikki and Sofia came up to the table afterwards and Vikki said to me it was like they weren’t even there, that I was just staring into space.

Even in my post-final interview I remember saying it had been a tough few weeks, that close friends and family would understand, I had pulled out of a couple of tournaments before that, and wasn’t even going to play in the worlds. 

In the end I agreed with Vikki to go and play, and that hopefully the venue and the atmosphere might perk me up rather than  sitting at home. 

It felt strange winning it that year, but maybe I was feeling under no pressure. I wasn’t expecting anything from myself. 

But at the end, when it should have been one of the best times in my life sharing it with Vikki and Sofia, I was emotionless, holding it up for appearances. 

Mark Selby celebrates winning last year's Betfred World Championship

Mark Selby celebrates winning last year’s Betfred World Championship

While I was trying to have the professional help from the doctor and play at the same time, it was not so much the actual playing that was difficult – more the sitting in your seat.

When I was at the table I had things to think about and keeping your mind active. But sitting in my chair you’re in your own headspace and thinking about all the rest. 

“That was life off the table, past experiences, not snooker at all. Initially we agreed to carry on playing if I could, because there is a danger of locking yourself at home and curling into a ball. 

“That wasn’t the way to go, I wanted to keep myself busy which was why I carried on to start with. The playing is the easy bit, it’s the battling with the demons in my head that is tough. 

“Some days I am okay, but I am been having more bad days than good, hence why I am in the position I am in and why I spoke out. 

“Hopefully I can reverse that, and that is why I have been working with his psychiatrist doctor from London, a couple of sessions a week at first, then one a week, and a change of medication. 

“When I am not really doing things and not busy is when the day-dreaming starts, if you want to call it that.  

“At home during the day keeping yourself busy can be running, getting outside for a 30-40 minute walk, write down in the morning what you want to do that day, and then do it. 

“And I have had to write down a lot about my past and my father and stuff. That has been tough, because now it all seems raw again. 

“But I felt I had to do it, because I never really did it before and had bottled it up. Even though I spoke about it, it was never in depth and I had to get it all out. 

“Snooker goals seem irrelevant right now, even though this is the World Championship. I have had no motivation and it is hard to explain it other than to people who have had it. 

“The temptation is to say ‘Just snap out of it’, but I just never know how I am going to feel. I can wake up and feel a little better, then as the day goes on have a cloudy patch and feel much worse. 

“It feels like I am fighting myself every day, but I have got great support around me with Vikki and the family, and now this doctor. 

“I will be going to the Crucible probably with a different perspective and hopefully feeling better. I have someone to WhatsApp in a bad patch. 

“I have been given a lot of things to do and it is up to me to do them. I have always treated snooker like it is life or death, and the hurt from defeats has been very strong. 

“The doctor is sure that has something to do with losing my dad. Because my mum walked out when I was young, when I lost him, it was my whole family. 

“I had nobody, the only thing I had to turn to was snooker, and that became like a comfort blanket. He believes that is why I have put so much into it, and where I feel most comfortable. 

“I would love to look forward to it, because it would be a shame to be at the Crucible and not care whether I won or lost.”

Whilst there are clearly encouraging signs regarding Mark’s state of mind, reading the above, my feeling is that he’s not out of the woods just yet. That doesn’t mean that he can’t win the title this year. He wasn’t well in 2016, as he explained in this interview, Ronnie has won titles whilst climbing the walls with depression as well, so it certainly can be done. But it’s hard.

There are “Crucible previews” in every corner of the Internet right now but I think that the one Phil Haigh wrote is particularly interesting:

Neil Robertson’s Crucible doubts make for wide open World Snooker Championships

Neil Robertson arrives at the World Championships in top form
Neil Robertson arrives at the World Championships in top form (Picture: Getty)

A total of 32 men with cues turn up at the Crucible Theatre this year with the hope of becoming world snooker champion and, unusually, a significant number of them have a real chance of potting the top prize.

Rarely a wild and unruly sport, results this season could be labelled as such. Some rogue clearly got their hands on the form book back in August, tore it up and stuck it through a shredder for good measure.

So unpredictable have been the ranking event winners that three haven’t even made it to the Crucible. Fan Zhengyi, Joe Perry and Rob Milkins lifted their trophies out of the blue and quickly returned to the azure from whence they came.

There have been first ranking titles for Zhao Xintong, Dave Gilbert and Hossein Vafaei as well, all of whom won tournaments at lengthy odds and have added to the chaotic nature of the campaign.

It has been a far cry from the last couple of seasons when Judd Trump was mopping up so many titles it is a surprise he wasn’t sponsored by Vileda.

The last year has been a nightmare to predict and while the World Championship trophy more than most ends up in the hands of the very elite players, there is a sense that someone could leap from the lower rungs of the ladder and get their paws on the top prize.

The man who wants to see no surprises at all in Sheffield, the tournament favourite and the calmest boat on stormy seas this season is Neil Robertson. The almost unnervingly confident Australian has triumphed at the Masters, Tour Championship, English Open and Players Championship already. In a season of shocks, the Thunder from Down Under has been in electric form and goes to Sheffield as the best player on the planet.

Doubts rumble through the Thunder, though, with the Crucible having been an unhappy hunting ground for the sport’s current apex predator. Robertson was world champion in 2010 but has been to just one semi-final since then, something his pal Joe Perry described as ‘one of the craziest stats in snooker’.

The Gentleman is right, it’s baffling that the Aussie has not done better in South Yorkshire in the last 12 years. The rangy Robertson says he struggles with the cramped nature of the Crucible, while Perry reckons that’s rubbish and his practice partner has developed a mental block in Sheffield.

The question marks accompanying Robertson sum up the vibe of this year’s tournament. He is the rightful favourite, but there is a generous dollop of doubt surrounding him thanks to his ropy Crucible record. And if there are issues over the track record of the world’s best player, there are even more floating around everyone else.

Defending champion Mark Selby has proved to be the perfect beast to trap all prey on the Crucible plains. However, he comes back to his natural habitat this year a wounded animal, not at full fitness as he bids for a fifth world crown.

Selby has been admirably honest about his mental health struggles, which he has impressively fought for years and has only recently opened up about. He has stepped away from snooker in recent months to deal with them.

Mental health is much more difficult to gauge than a physical issue, but effectively Selby is heading to the Crucible lacking match fitness. This is Wayne Rooney heading to the World Cup with a fractured metatarsal. Will he be ready? Can he be at his best? We just don’t know. He’s too good to ignore even if he isn’t at full force, but Selby would have to pull off one of the great achievements in snooker to be world champion again this year after a season in which he has had to tackle more important priorities than sticks and balls.

Ronnie O’Sullivan will attract a lot of money at the betting window and the world number one is undoubtedly in with a great chance of claiming a record-equalling seventh world title. He won it as recently as 2020, but his trophy cabinet has gathered a bit of dust since then.

Ronnie O'Sullivan
Ronnie O’Sullivan is hoping to match Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles (Picture: Getty Images)

The Rocket has been very active since that last Crucible triumph, but has won just one event, remarkably losing in six finals, which helps explain how he has returned to the summit of the rankings without adding much silverware.

The sport’s greatest artist is the consensus best of all-time and the rankings will tell you he is the best right now, while he also downed Robertson to win his one title this season, so what’s the problem?

Well nothing, really, at least nothing serious. It’s just that the Rocket is never a banker these days, especially not in Sheffield. He has won the World Championship six times in 29 attempts. A superb effort, but nowhere near dominant. His 2020 triumph was his only one in his last eight visits to the Steel City.

His one trophy in two seasons shows that even the greatest gets beaten and beaten pretty regularly. That is no criticism. The man is 46 years old and still at the top of a fiendishly difficult sport, but anyone with rock solid confidence in the Rocket is probably basing it more on love than logic.

Judd Trump completes the world’s top four and comes into the World Championship after what some would tell you has been a stinker of a season. The Ace has racked up £236,000 on his rankings this campaign and that is without his earnings from winning the Champion of Champions and reaching a Masters semi-final. Almost any player to ever lay eyes on a snooker table would sell their granny for just one season like that.

The problem for Judd is that it has come after a period of immense success and his one ranking title looks a paltry return compared to the six of 2019/20 and five of last year. In his first round Tour Championship defeat to Luca Brecel last month he looked worryingly short of form and sick of snooker, he then admitted as much afterwards.

Betfred World Snooker Championship - Day Four
Which Judd Trump will arrive in Sheffield? (Picture: Getty Images)

A shortage of confidence and belief has contributed to Trump has falling away from the position of pre-tournament favourite he held in the last two years and appears vulnerable. He is also still one of the finest players on the planet and can blast anyone away if he finds his form. The ‘if’ there is the problem and it appears to be a big one.

John Higgins is more than capable of claiming the silverware for a fifth time, but has won just one ranking event since 2018. Kyren Wilson has fast joined the very suave and fashionable ‘Crucible player’ club but his impressive Sheffield record is yet to include a world title win on it.

The new kids on the block will appeal to some, with Zhao Xintong announcing himself as a genuine force thanks to his UK Championship and German Masters wins this season, while Yan Bingtao has been a fearsome foe for a couple of years now. The problem is that Yan has never been past the second round and Zhao has never won a game at the Crucible. It’s a leap of epic proportions to go from there to the title.

Zhao Xintong
Zhao Xintong has proven himself as a major winner (Picture: WST)

Of course, all these players are genuine contenders and any could be champion of the world on 2 May, but if there is anyone out there with a seriously strong feeling about any of them, then they have found a source of confidence that this observer has failed to.

Certainly there are enough doubts over the favourites to make a case for those with longer odds, especially when they have significant pedigree of their own. Mark Williams, Mark Allen, Anthony McGill, Shaun Murphy and Ding Junhui would be seen as surprise winners, but nowhere near as surprising as some champions that have been crowned this season. Not in the same stratosphere as 750/1 shot Fan winning the European Masters or even Perry’s win at the Welsh Open at 125/1.

The fact that Williams can be considered a surprise champion is bizarre, but not incorrect. The man has three world titles to his name and has played some excellent stuff this season, but at pre-tournament odds of around 33/1 he is an outsider – and great value.

In the context of a bizarre season, no one should be ignored, and while there is no need to name all 32 men striding into Sheffield, there are plenty so far unmentioned who also have a healthy chance of glory.

The good ship snooker has been caught in a results maelstrom this season and we should not assume the sight of the Crucible on the horizon will restore calm waters. One will remain afloat in Sheffield and none should be condemned to Davy Jones’ Locker before they even get their feet wet. This is anyone’s World Championship.

It is indeed hard to have any confidence in any “prediction” given the season we had. Neil Robertson has been the best player but, indeed, his record at the Crucible is surprisingly poor and it’s hard to understand why. Perry knows him very well and him mentioning a “mental block” is interesting.

Another player who has a poor record at the Crucible is Mark Allen and, in my opinion, this is because a lack of stamina. John Higgins has repeatedly mentioned how losing weight has helped him to play better and feel more comfortable on the shot. That’s something Mark may want to look into. I know that he’s had tough times off the table and that doesn’t help but hopefully he’s past the worst now.

The fact that Ding made it to the final the previous time he needed to qualify has been mentioned quite a lot. I had been at the qualifiers that year and, if my memory is to be trusted (IF), he had played much better in qualifiers than he did this year. There are four Chinese players in the draw this time though and maybe that may “divide” the Chinese media attention a bit and ease the pressure on Ding.  To be fair to Ding, the level of expectations he had to cope with over the years is absolutely crazy.

4 thoughts on “2022 World Championship Eve

  1. I don’t agree with Joe Perry. It’s been clear to me for several years that Neil Robertson has to adjust his technique to play in the cramped Crucible. This is significant, and can’t just be brushed aside with psycho-babble. The trouble is, there isn’t much honesty when it comes to that venue. Anyone who speaks out about the (obvious) problems gets pilloried by the media and the fans, accused of ‘sour grapes’ etc., so it’s understandable people shy away from any criticism. Others are just deluding themselves, or swayed by misty-eyed nostalgia. Of course Robertson has a psychological block, because he knows that he is being impacted and it naturally bothers him and distracts him whilst playing. These are the margins between success and faiure at this level. I’m not saying Robertson can’t win, but he somehow has to battle through the horrible first 3 rounds.

    • I get it. Perry is very close to Robertson, he would not belittle him knowingly but focusses more on the consequences than on the causes. And you are right about lack of honesty. I sat in the Crucible for most of the 2016 Championships. It’s not true that you have a great view from every seat. You know what I look like. I’m not short, but I’m not tall either. I have long legs but a shorter bust. When sat there, more often than not I had to try and peek around the head of the person in front of me unless I was sat in the rafters. From the highest rows one has a good view on the tables although it’s quite far away. Also the ventilation system is inadequate. It was tropical up there more often that not. And when ventilation fails, which happens … it’s a nightmare.

      • Yes that’s right, Perry is trying to help Robertson in any way he can. Obviously he can’t knock down the first row of seats to create enough space…

        As I’ve said before, the main problem is the lack of space for players to use their proper technique and inadequate table conditions (probably caused by atmospheric variations and a precarious under-floor arrangement). But there’s also the reduced number of spectators, lack of facilities for them, lack of corporate hospitality, tiny media centre, etc. The fact that the audience is so close to the players is often lauded, but it’s also a distraction, potentially a security or health (covid transmission) risk.

        The Snooker World Championship should have the BEST conditions possible. Snooker really does demand top-quality table conditions. What amazes and disappoints me is that almost everyone knows about the problems, yet shies away from even having a discussion.

        I cannot support a situation when people seem scared to speak out.

        In the ‘Judgement Day’ commentary, we had to listen to Rob Walker and Ken Doherty saying (repeatedly) how much they ‘love’ the Crucible, and how it’s ‘idiosyncrasies’ only add to that love. What an utterly stupid and self-serving justification for what is supposed to be the ultimate event of a major global sport.

        The common counter-argument is some vague notion of ‘history’. I don’t think people fully understand what the word ‘history’ actually means. History is about change, about progress. It was historic to move to the Crucible in 1977 and historic for the BBC to cover the event in 1978 and increasingly in the 1980’s. The world in 2022 is very different, and if ‘history’ means anything at all, wider changes must be reflected within snooker. There seems to be a confusion between ‘history’, and ‘continuity’ or ‘tradition’, such as the tradition to exclude women from clubs.

        I just wish people could be clear-headed and make objective, analytic decisions.

        Myself, I am working on Monday 2nd May (for a global investmant bank). I will miss the 3rd session of the final. Viewers in UK or Ireland will be pleased that this happens to be a Bank Holiday in those regions.

      • I know that only too well. As a mainland European, I had to miss that session every year when I worked and the time difference even adds to the problem. Not only is that Monday a working day, the Tuesday is as well of course. With all the razzmatazz it’s 8:30 pm before the last session even starts in Western Europe, 9:30 pm here in Eastern Europe. If snooker has real ambitions to be a global sport that “Bank holiday” schedule should be scrapped. The Final should finish on a Sunday. And the broadcasting should start earlier for the last session so that the players can actually start to play at 7pm local time. But of course, to a very large extend, the schedule is dictated by the BBC as well as who plays when.
        Also, for all the years I was there, the lighting is diferent depending on what table the players are on. The light on table 2 was always “hotter” (yellower) than on table one. I’m a photographer, I notice such things: you do when you try to get the ‘white balance” right. I spoke about it with the BBC cameramen. They made measures that confirmed my observations but nothing more was done. The lighting when it comes to the one table setup is usually similar to what it was on table 1.

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